What Do I Do If I Have Too Many Characters?

There are many, many pitfalls that one can fall into when writing a story, and accidentally creating more characters than you can juggle is one of the most tempting mistakes. Character creation is fun! Unfortunately, an overburdened plot is not. Luckily, there’s a few questions you can keep in mind to help you reduce your cast’s complexity. Firstly…

What does each character bring to the plot, and what does each character bring to the themes?

Ideally, every character in your story should contribute both to the plot and the overarching message of your story, but it’s not a sin to have a character who just adds flavor to the text. However, if you have a character who exists only to help your protagonists past a single plot point, then you should ask yourself…

Could any of these things be done by another character instead?

Which leads us to our next question…

Could you merge two characters together?

One of the things I’ve found that most helps me tighten up a story with too many characters is to take two characters and combine them into one.

Not only does it reduce your cast complexity, but it has the added benefit of potentially creating a more complex character overall; a character with multiple roles to fill gives us the chance to see them in different situations, making them into a more realized character. Maybe your doctor is gentle on the job, but a bit unruly when she’s had a drink or two with her co-workers after work. Maybe your protagonist’s rival decided that they care for the protagonist after all, and doubled back to help them out of a pinch instead of a random extra.

Just be careful not to burden any singular character with too many roles at once — a character who conveniently does everything for the story can be just as annoying as a character who contributes nothing at all.

Is each character distinct from each other?

If your readers can’t tell the difference between two characters, then that’s a big red flag that one (or even both) of them might be unnecessary. This principle applies to personalities, mannerisms, and speech habits as well as appearances. If two characters give very similar-sounding advice in the exact same way, you have a redundancy on your hands.

Alternatively, you might only need to make those characters more distinctive from each other. This is more effort to do in casts which are already very large.

Finally; does this character need to be named?

Sometimes, reducing the complexity of your character cast doesn’t involve cutting anything, but instead simply de-emphasizing characters that don’t contribute significantly to the plot. My general rule is that if this character only has one or two chapters and is never mentioned again, they don’t need a name. By not naming one-off bit characters, you keep your readers from juggling unnecessary information in the back of their brains as they go through your story. Now they can pay attention to the characters who really matter!

And that’s it for my character advice today! If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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